The Truth Behind the Paleo Lifestyle

Science can't back many aspects of this increasingly popular fad
Staff Writer

The number of Paleo-followers seems to be growing exponentially lately. From barefoot runners to those who follow the paleo diet (one comprising primarily meat and a few carbs), more and more people are trying to mimic the aspects of an ancient lifestyle to better their health.

But therein lies the problem, says Marlene Zuk in her book Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live—these habits are ancient, and humans have evolved away from them over thousands of years.  

A recent article in Discover highlights some of the points from Zuk’s book:

The Paleo Diet: The idea that humans should eat primarily meat came from a 1975 book called The Stone Age Diet written by gastroenterologist Walter Voegtlin. Recently, more books have touted a style of eating that promotes meats and discourages carbohydrates, sweets and processed foods. These include The Paleo Diet and The Primal Diet. But the idea that humans should not eat grains or other carbs is simply incorrect, according to recent research. Studies of fossil hominids suggest that premolar teeth were used to open seeds or chew starchy tubers and bulbs. Furthermore, in 2010, scientists found bits of plants on grinding stones at 30,000-year-old archeological sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic. Based on the findings, they concluded that early humans mixed plants with waters to make an early form of pita bread. Still other scientists point out that, just because the diets of hunter-gatherers comprised mostly wild animal fat and protein, it doesn't necessarily follow that this is the best diet for modern humans or that we have genetic pre-dispositions to this way of eating.

Barefoot Running: Many paleo-enthusiasts believe that interval training (or bouts of high intensity exercise mixed with lower-intensity activity), best mimics the act of sprinting after prey and therefore is best for our bodies. However, increasing research shows that running long distances can be healthy, and that humans may have evolved doing just this type of exercise.  Numerous skeletal features in the human body allow us to maintain a marathon-like pace for a surprising amount of time. In fact, some scientists believe our skills evolved to help us run down prey by keeping an animal moving until it dropped from heat exhaustion.

To read more, visit the complete story on Discover.

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